Thursday, January 31, 2013

Serve Time

Continuing our incarceration theme with Serve Time, a great dual purpose game. No more boring serve practice. No more lost opportunities to improve the second most important stroke of the game (return of serve).

Players pair up and are playing together as a team. One player serves; the other is across the net retrieving the serve by hand. Retrieving player must catch ball after one bounce. For every successfully completed serve and catch, the pair earns one point. First pair to earn seven points, wins. Players switch roles and repeat. Players switch partners and repeat twice more so that each player has a chance at performing both roles.

You might argue the receiving player isn't exactly hitting a return. But the coordination required to track and catch the served ball bare-handed is critical to this process, and some might add even more difficult than having a racquet in hand.

Adapted from USTA's Learn To Rally And Play booklet 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Lesson Management: Lockstep or Free-For-All?

There is probably a different management style for every tennis club. At the first club I worked at (at first in an admin position; later doing a little of everything), it was a very small club. We had one full time teaching professional and one part time high school student who helped out at our summer camps. So the pro had full say-so on everything from creating lesson plans to ordering toilet paper. 

My current club is much bigger with several teaching pros and several layers of administration. My boss sets the expectations, but we all have a great deal of latitude on court. There are some broad common sense guidelines such as safety, customer service, dress code, punctuality, the usual worker bee stuff. We are expected to become PTR or USPTA certified. We are encouraged to maintain our skills by attending workshops and so forth. Our certifications lead us to general suggestions for lesson plans, skill progressions, the latest trends in tennis instruction, etc. But how we interact with our students and the details of each lesson plan is left to us. 

I understand some club management goes a little further, expecting all staff to teach in exactly the same way, using the same terminology, lesson plans, swing style/technique, etc. across the board. For example all 8-year-olds will play orange ball or higher. They will use a semi-closed stance with a semi-western grip and a baby C loop on the racquet prep. 

I have never worked in such a regimented environment. I can see the advantages, one big one being your lesson plans are already mapped out for you! I suppose this would be fine assuming the club's teaching style is in sync with those of the pros. My concern with this approach is: what do you do with the students who don't fit the mold? What if the club's curriculum is out of date, such as insisting on a one-handed backhand, or using yellow balls regardless of the age of the student? I suppose the easy answer is to not accept the job in the first place, but in this economy, turning down work is easier said than done.

What is your experience with various tennis club management styles? What works and what doesn't? 

It's A Scream

Here's another jewel from It's a simple concept to get your young beginners rarin' to go. It also helps them focus on and track the ball.

Coach tosses a tennis ball into the air. When ball is in air, students may scream. But only when it is in the air. Silence please, if ball is in hand, cart, or pocket. JobEasier suggests including some fake-outs during this process to increase the fun factor.

I have one Red Ball class that is all girls. They are going to love this.

UPDATE: yep, they loved it!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Squeeze Rally

Squeeze Rally can be a challenge for any level player. Recommended for advanced beginner and up. You may find some cones, spots, or stripes handy to help mark the court safely and quickly.

If your players can
get a 10 ball rally
squeezed into the
alley, be impressed!
Players begin at baseline of full singles court. Each time they reach a rally of 10 balls, they squeeze the court narrower by one racquet length. Object is to see which team can successfully rally 10 balls with the narrowest court.

Adapted from Growing Kids, Growing the Game by Mike Barrell

Monday, January 28, 2013

Great Escape

Escapes are popular on screen and on court
Great Escape is a variation of the Jail Break or Dog Pound type of game. The object is to stay on one side of the net by not making any hitting mistakes.

Players are on one end of court. Coach is across net tossing balls. One at a time, players attempt to hit the balls over the net and in play. If they succeed, they go to the end of their line. If they miss, they run over to Coach's side of court. Any player catching a ball after one bounce may return to the hitting line, and whichever player's ball was caught must go to Coach's side.

Here's where it differs from those other two games: If any player on Coach's side of court catches any ball out of the air, ALL players on Coach's side are free and may return to the hitting line. Last player to hit safely (without being caught) wins.

Adapted from USTA's Learn To Rally And Play booklet

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Tennis Jacks

Jacks game pieces
Thank you again to all the great children's games out there that can be easily adapted to tennis. This one may be a stretch - how many kids today have any idea what 'jacks' is, much less how to play it? So parents and grandparents reading this: buff up your jacks skills! If you have no idea how to play jacks, here's a video of the real thing.

For the tennis version, it is basically a variation on the self-rally. Players toss the ball into the air, let it bounce, tap it up once with their racquet, then catch it in their non-racquet hand. This is a 'onesie'. Once this is accomplished, they repeat, tapping it up twice in a row for a 'twosie'. Continue with successively longer rallies. Player who can achieve the most 'ups' wins.

Play with a partner! You do the tap-ups, partner does the catching.

Adapted from USTA's Learn To Rally And Play booklet

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Clear the Court

Here's a simple activity to warm up the shoulder. Perfect intro to a serving lesson. Divide players into two teams, one on each baseline. Place two piles of equal numbers of balls on the court, one pile at each T (middle of service lines). Teams compete within a set time limit to 'clear the court' of balls on their side. Team with fewest balls on their side of court at end of time limit wins.

Note: players must start at baseline, run up and get a ball from the service line, throw it over, then return to baseline before throwing another ball over. For safety reasons, players may not advance past service line to retrieve balls. Also for safety reasons, this game is best not played on 36-foot courts unless you are playing with foam balls.

Adapted from USTA's Learn To Rally And Play booklet

Friday, January 25, 2013

Train Wreck

Organized train crashes used to be a thing
back in the day, believe it or not
Speaking of things crashing, try Train Wreck to spice up your Alley Rally. In Alley Rally, young beginners stand on either side of the alley and pass a ball back and forth to each other. Train Wreck ups the ante by having them pass and receive TWO balls simultaneously. As with actual trains, you do NOT want the balls to hit each other, so a modicum of control is required. Challenge your players to see how many passes they can do without a 'wreck'.

Still too easy? Increase either the number of passes required or the distance apart.

Adapted from USTA's Learn To Rally And Play

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Crash Test

Crash Test is a simple activity for young beginners, 4 players or more.

Four players stand in a square formation, as if each was standing at the corner of a box. The players diagonally across from each other are partners. One of each pair of partners has one ball. They use their racquets to roll the balls to the partner diagonally across from them. Note the balls are rolled at the same time. If the balls hit in the middle, players yell 'CRASH!'

If you have an odd number of players, have them rotate in.

Adapted from USTA's Learn To Rally And Play

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Dirty Harry

What this has to do with
Dirty Harry I do not know
Here's a fun activity to improve lateral movement and quickness. Coach is on one side of net on one half of court (ad or deuce). Players are across net straight ahead of Coach. For this example, let's put the Coach at the net on the ad side, and players across net at deuce side baseline. Coach tosses the ball underhand diagonally to the ad side baseline. Player must catch ball after bounce, moving laterally with good quality side shuffle. After retrieving the ball, player shuffles back to starting point, tosses ball back to Coach, and returns to end of player line. One point is awarded for each ball caught. First player to earn 7 points calls out 'Dirty Harry' and wins the game.

Move to opposite side of court and repeat so that players work on moving laterally from both sides of court.

The version above is the hardest. To make it a little easier, consider these tweaks.
Easy - coach is on same side of net as players; uses smaller court or only half of court
A little harder - Coach is across net, but allows multiple bounces.

Update: I tried this one recently and it worked great! I had the students warm up by starting on the deuce side with catching the tossed ball, with me tossing from the same side of the court. First one to 7 points wins; repeat on ad side. Points only awarded if they shuffled over, caught ball after one bounce, and shuffled BACK. Then we progressed to them shuffling over, hitting ball, shuffling back. I was feeding from across the net. No points awarded unless 1) ball went over net into play; and 2) shuffle over AND BACK. I fed quickly, so they were huffing and puffing after four rotations. I will definitely be using this again.

Adapted from USTA's Learn To Rally And Play

Foam Ball Fun

Recently I held a free event as a thank-you to current students and as a promotion to help grow the game and of course my business. Too soon to tell if it will have the desired effect, but I feel strongly that occasional free events benefit everyone. As my former boss used to say, 'the rising tide floats all boats'. Meaning, the more we grow the game, the more all of us will eventually benefit.

My facility has seven permanent 36-foot courts, so I decided to hold a free Foam Ball Tourney for a couple different reasons.
  • I love showcasing our 36-foot courts.
  • I wanted the event to be fun for all players, regardless of skill.
  • I felt foam ball would be perfect for any level of player.
  • With permanent courts, I didn't need the extensive set-up time to convert full courts into 36-foot courts. Less work for me!
We played an Uptown/Downtown format, singles only. We supplied the small racquets and foam balls. I assigned everyone to a court for the first round based on pre-registration info on ages. Once that was set, the players rotated on their own. We played first to 4 points wins. Winner moves up one court, loser moves down one court. Exceptions are highest court, where winner stays, and lowest court, where loser either stays or rotates to end of waiting line. We only had two extra players so the waiting time was brief. If you have lots of extra players, play doubles instead of singles. Rather have crowded courts than long lines!

The event was advertised as one hour. This gave us time for check-in, introductions, explanation of rules, and three 10-minute playing segments. After each 10 minute segment, we stopped for a water break, then returned to play.

Two things I need to improve for next time:

  • I forgot to warn everyone to go to the restroom before we began. Key error and I should know better! Our facility is so spread out, it is problematic to walk young players back to the clubhouse for a restroom break in the middle of the event. Fortunately, one of the parents volunteered to do this for me. Thank you, Mr. Felder!
  • Rotation up/down after match was complete was clunky and confusing for the younger players. The players about 8 and older figured it out quickly. But the little ones needed constant supervision to get it right. Once again, parents to the rescue - they gladly agreed to stand at the net posts and assist. At first I encouraged players to continue playing for fun on their existing court if they were waiting for their next court to finish, rather than stand around waiting. But this caused too much confusion, so I would suggest just being patient and letting the players wait at the net post for their next match. Since we were only playing first to 4 points, the wait was never very long.
We had gift bag giveaways including one foam ball per participant and some flyers for upcoming events. In the clubhouse we had hot cocoa and cookies waiting for them afterward. Players ages ranged from 5-16 with ability levels ranging from never-ever to advanced beginner. The small courts and racquets plus foam balls leveled the playing field and everyone had a great time.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Dodge Ball

I finally found a Dodge Ball activity that is not a threat to personal safety. Best with large groups of any ability.

Players with racquets form a circle. One player is in the middle without racquet. Using their racquets, circled players roll a ball across the circle. Player in middle must avoid being touched by rolling ball. Rotate middle player frequently.

Hint: provide close supervision to ensure ball is rolled safely and game does not get out of control.

If this is too easy, add one or two more balls being passed at the same time.

Monday, January 21, 2013


Lollipops is good for young beginners, but like any quality activity, can be easily adapted for older players.

Players work together in pairs, facing each other 5-10 feet apart. Between them are two or more spots of different colors (no duplicates). First player calls out a color and rolls a ball to that color spot. Partner runs there, retrieves the ball, and rolls it back to first player, then returns to their starting place. Play continues for a few minutes, then players switch roles.


  • Easiest - rolling ball
  • Harder - tossed ball, or ball rolled with racquet
  • Hardest - ball hit with racquet to target across net

Adapted from USTA's Learn To Rally and Play

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Rally Masters

Rally Masters is similar to other activities seen here to help players develop consistency. The evolve9 version is set up in an event format with timed round robin rounds playing tiebreaks. They readily admit this can get confusing, keeping track of both the rallies and the tiebreak scores. So I am going to simplify it here and eliminate the tiebreak component. You will need some extra stuff to keep track of rallies and score for this activity, so have some clothes pins and extra balls on hand. Prefer the balls be a different color or type than those being used for play.

Organize players ahead of time into a round robin format. Each round will last 10 minutes. Points may only be scored once a minimum number of rallies is completed. First point requires 2 rallies to be completed. Second point requires 3 rallies. Third point requires 4 rallies, and so on.  First ball of each point is bounce fed from baseline.

It is important that there are simple and highly visible scorekeeping methods available, especially for younger players. They must keep track of how many rallies are required as well as what the current score is. Consider using on-court scorekeepers (the flip kind or the tower kind, either are fine). If those are not available, use clothes pins. As for keeping track of how many rallies are needed per point, consider placing balls at the center of the court against the net. That way both players can easily see them, and just add a ball after each point. Ideally you will have different colored balls available for this purpose so that the players don't accidentally pick up and use a ball that should remain at the net for  tracking the number of rallies.

Winning players are those who achieve the highest rally of the day.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Cannon Ball

This may be going a little too far
Cannon Ball is a great activity for your youngest beginners. It's a variation of a toss-catch activity like Cone Catch or 1 Bounce, 2 Bounce. Perfect for warm-ups or homework for any age group.

Coach tosses a ball high in the air and calls out a player's name. Player attempts to catch the ball after at least one bounce. All players and coach count aloud together how many bounces occur before player catches the ball. Continue until all players have had a turn.


  • Use different types of balls - rubber playground balls, beach balls, soccer balls, etc.
  • Play with pairs of partners taking turns tossing and catching with each other.
Adapted from USTA's Learn To Rally And Play 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Stick or Swap

Stick or Swap is novelty format good for larger groups. You will need plenty of playing cards.

Place two cones or other markers courtside. Divide players into two groups and have each group line up behind one of the markers. Once play begins they will be switching around - they are not on 'teams', so no need to try to divide the groups evenly skill-wise at the beginning.

Before play begins, have each player select a card. They may look at their own card but may not show it to anyone else or tell anyone else what they drew. Players are then sent on court to play against someone from the other line.

When they complete their game, they return to the coach and report the score. At that time the winner chooses to either stick with the card he/she was initially given, or swap it for the opponent's card. Remember, no player should know what anyone else's card is, so they are taking a chance here by swapping!

After reporting scores and stick/swap with the cards, players both return to the SAME line as each other (which may not be the same line they started in) to keep the pairings fresh.

There are two winners at the end of this event. One is the player who has won the most times. The other is the player with the highest card. Aces are highest, then king, queen, jack, etc.

Include a joker in the pack. If a joker is drawn, it doubles the value a card drawn randomly from the pack.

Hint: as I read through this activity, I kept wondering where the players would keep their card while they were playing. Pockets, yes, but I still have lots of players who forget to wear pockets. I don't have a solution yet, but thought I would mention.

Adapted from When Can I Play Again,

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Shark Tank

I think this is my third tennis activity with 'shark' in the title. My students love anything to do with sharks. Probably because my shark activities occur two hours from the nearest ocean.

I love Jaws but I still won't swim in an ocean
Shark Tank is a variation of Tag. Best with 3 or more players. Coach designates the area that will be the Tank such as the back court, service court, or any well-marked space. Coach selects one player to be the Shark. Shark tries to tag as many players as possible. When a player is tagged, they must exit the Tank, perform two jumping jacks, then rejoin the Tank.

Coach should rotate who is the Shark frequently.

Coach can designate what type of movement can be done inside the Tank - walk, skip, march, hop, etc.

Adapted from USTA's Learn To Rally and Play

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Speed Racer

A blast from the past. Did any of you watch
the original, or was it before your time?
Speed Racer is a good format for large groups of just about any level. Ideally you will have enough courts for all players to be playing at once. If not, have some players lined up ready to go in.

Divide players into two fairly evenly matched teams. Send players out to play singles against each other. If you have too many players for the number of courts, some can be waiting to go in at the next round. Whenever a court finishes their game, they call out 'Done' or 'Stop' or whatever you have agreed upon beforehand. All players must stop. Whoever is ahead, whether game is complete or not, wins a point for their team. If they are tied, one additional point is played to determine the winner.

If you have enough courts for all players to be on court at the same time, try an Uptown, Downtown rotation. If you have players waiting, feed them into the lower court and everyone else moves up a court, then back into line after they finish play at the highest court.

Team with the most points at the end of this activity wins.

Variation: easily played as doubles if you are short on courts.

Adapted from When Can I Play Again,

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tag Team Tiebreak

You will need 4 players per court for Tag Team Tiebreak. Pair them up into teams of two (players 1 and 2 vs. players 3 and 4).

Player 1 plays Player 3 for two points, with each player serving one point each. Then Player 2 faces Player 4 for two points. Play continues until a 7 point tiebreaker is completed. A second tiebreaker is then played, with the players alternating their opponents. For example, Player 1 now faces Player 4 and Player 2 faces Player 3. Players switch ends after every 4 points so that each serves from alternate end every time it is their turn.

If the teams split breakers, players spin racquets to see which pairings will be played for the final tiebreaker. Suggestion: have Player 1 and Player 3 spin racquets. If they match (both 'up' or both 'down'), they will face each other in the final breaker. If they do not match, Player 1 will face Player 4 in the final breaker.

Adapted from When Can I Play Again,

Monday, January 14, 2013

Super Team Tennis

Here's a fun activity for groups. It combines match play with an element of surprise. I found it in an evolve9 activity booklet. You will need two cones and some clothes pins.

Divide players into two teams. Place cones on either side of net post off court. Have each team line up behind one of the cones. Players take turns playing singles against each other in order as they are lined up. Whoever wins the point places a clothes pin under their team's cone and goes to the end of their team's line. Whichever team has the most pins at the end of the event is the winner.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Continuing Ed

Coach Stan and me at last year's
PTR Symposium in Orlando
It's official - I'm all signed up and ready to attend the PTR 10 and Under Tennis Conference in Hilton Head next month. I'm excited, and here's why:

  • Hilton Head! Plus, it's an easy drive across state for me.
  • Unlike the bigger international PTR symposium coming in May (also in HHI), this one focuses on 10 and Under. Some of my students are older than 10, but most are not.
  • The presentations are scheduled linearly rather than concurrently, so I don't have to choose which to attend and risk missing out on something awesome. 
  • Guaranteed tons of new quality material for this blog!
  • Opportunity to meet in person some of the great folks I correspond with online throughout the rest of the year. 
Will you be there? If so, let me know. I would love to meet you in person!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Consistency is Key

In the process of integrating the recent 3 ball consistency drills into my lessons, I came up with a couple of variations to scale it down for my younger and less skilled players. You see, I was having some difficulty with them being able to rally at all . . . sometimes that happens! So instead of having them rally with 3 balls among themselves, I switched it up a little. I asked them to hit 3 balls in a row into the playable court, with me feeding the three balls. They were able to have better success with this model, so I am using it as a stepping stone to the 3 Ball drill. I turned it into a competition by rewarding them with one point every time they were able to hit three balls in a row into play. One class did this as individuals, another did it as teams. We started out at the service line. Round 2 was done with them hitting from the baseline to add a level of difficulty. You can probably see how it can be easily adjusted for backhands, serves, volleys, and so forth. My clinic used forehands.

I had two different scoring schemes.

  • One was to see who had the most points by the time the hopper was empty. I had them place a ball along the edge of the court for every point won. 
  • Another was to see which team got to 7 points first, since we had those flippable scorekeepers on court and they LOVE using the flippable scorekeepers.
My students love using these!

For my Red Ball class, I scaled it back to a 2 ball requirement at first. Then I added a ball as they got warmed up. In other words, no point unless you can hit 3 in a row; then 4 in a row, etc.

BTW we also had a brief grammar lesson on the various definitions of 'consistency' and which one was relevant to our tennis lesson. I never cease to be amazed at the intellect of my students!

Monday, January 7, 2013

DIY Warm-Up

My junior tennis lessons run anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes. I focus on skill development and match play. I don't have a lot of extra time for warm-up or fitness activities. After spending the last year cranking out hundreds of lesson plans, I had a light bulb moment. I remembered my son's club soccer team had a warm-up routine they did at every practice. The coach had developed a simple but effective routine that got everyone warmed up, and, even better, required no adult supervision - the team could run through the routine on their own. So I did the same thing for my Orange Ball and up classes. Happy to say it is working great. One of my proudest moments was coming to the court behind the kids and watching them line up on the baseline and start their warm-up without me saying a word (sniff, sniff, shedding a tear). Seriously, this way they can warm themselves up when playing for fun or prior to match play when I am not around.

Here's what I included in my 8 point warm-up. Yours doesn't have to be 8 points. It doesn't have to included these specific exercises. The point is to have something that works well for your students and your lesson time.

1 Medium jog
2 High Knees
3 Butt Kicks
4 Shuffle Step (facing sideways)
5 Facing net, Shuffle Step from hash mark to outer sideline; shuffle back to hash mark; sprint to net
6 With both feet, hop back and forth over baseline for a few hops; then sprint to net
7 Big Skip - lower body skips; upper body twists
8 Hip Circles - similar to High Knees, but when the knee is lifted, make a big circle to the outside to loosen the hip joint. I do it on a 3 count so that the circling hip alternates right/left. It goes like this: Step, Step, Circle, Step Step Circle, etc. Some of my students have trouble getting this one.

Two others I like to substitute are deep lunge steps and carioca/grapevine steps.

After 8 rotations my students are usually pretty winded and warm, depending on the size of the group.

For each of the eight activities, students line up on the full court (78-foot) baseline, perform the activity from baseline to net, then circle around outside the court lines and get back in line. If you have a large group, have them form two lines. As soon as one player gets to the net, the next player in line goes, so they need to pay attention. If you have a small group and no lines are needed, they just perform the activity up to the net and do a medium jog back to the baseline.

I sometimes use a different warm-up just to mix things up, but for now this is my go-to warm-up routine 90% of the time.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

It Only Hurts For A Minute

At last, a practical use for all those
Beanie Babies!
Thanks Mark Dalli for this great idea! During a recent tennis instruction discussion on LinkedIn, the Los Angeles area teaching pro had this solution for young players who are afraid of the ball. You will need a supply of soft, small-ish stuffed animals.

Have the player stand at the net, no racquet needed. Coach then lightly tosses the stuffed animals at the player. The intention is for the stuffed animals to make contact (hit) the player, so take it easy. Ideally this will help them relax and realize if they do get hit by a foam ball, it likely will not hurt.

I have done this by gently tossing foam balls at players, even other types of balls, and it is very effective if done right. But I love the stuffed animals idea for very  young players. Mark claims they love it and guarantees a case of the giggles.